Soldiers met dogs in various circumstances during the Civil War. Their encounters were often mundane, but sometimes they were threatening, surprising, even comical. Or pathetic, as one officer described in his account of the March to the Sea. “Of late I have been touched with pity for our deluded enemies. It is very sad to read letters written by men just before they died, or to see a corpse deserted by every one except a howling dog.”
One regiment’s historian recorded a harrowing scene. Though the soldiers of the 70th Indiana Volunteer Infantry likely never saw the dog again, they never forgot how his plight elicited a sympathy they had come to rarely feel toward people. In his history of the regiment, Samuel Merrill detailed the pillaging of homes and plantations across Georgia, and several instances of cruel treatment of Southern men and women. Then the soldiers of the 70th met a dog in distress.
“Our men showed more sympathy for an unfortunate dog that appeared underneath a burning house in Springfield, sending forth most dismal howls. He succeeded by the help of the flames in breaking the strap which bound him, but only to find himself caged by blazing palings that fringed the basement of the building. The boys stood in ranks as the column halted for a moment, breathlessly watching the efforts of the poor fellow, whom they could not aid, and burst into welcoming cheers as he seized the red bars with his teeth and tore his way toward them.”
We can only hope that the soldiers’ helpless concern for the dog, followed by their relief at his escape, sparked a renewed feeling of their common humanity with the men and women they would meet as the grim business of war continued.
~From “The Seventieth Indiana volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion,” 1900.